The grandson of Polish and Ukrainian immigrants and the son of a blue-collar family, Professor John Banasiak has used his upbringing as a driving force in his love for the arts. This love led him to be a recipient of the Governor’s Awards in the Arts in regard to his “Outstanding Service in Art Education.”
In 1969, Banasiak picked up his first camera. He was going to school at the Art Institute of Chicago. Initially, he found himself drawn to every form of art. Banasiak said this drive to be surrounded by the arts came from him feeling like he was “empty of art history” growing up.
After seeing some of his friends taking photo classes, Banasiak decided to take a chance and learn a new skill in photography.
“(At the Art Institute of Chicago) they had enough faculty members where I would be getting a good variety of perspectives, that I could use to help invent my own language with photo,” Banasiak said.
His love for photography soon turned into a love for teaching photography. Banasiak had always had a knack for storytelling he said, which is what piqued his interest in becoming a graduate teaching assistant.
At the age of 25, after photographer and professor, Keith Schmidt was diagnosed with Hepatitis, Banasiak took over the role of teaching a color photography class at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Since his time at the Art Institute of Chicago, Banasiak has moved to South Dakota and become a full-time photography professor in the College of Fine Arts. Banasiak teaches a wide array of classes, from analog to digital, black and white to color, and even new experimental independent studies.
“I enjoy photography because of how many different perspectives you might be able to look at a subject from, and the technical things that might visually present the information in a language that would be most powerful,” Banasiak said. “With an expanded palette of knowledge, (students) have a lot more magic to choose from with photography.”
Banasiak is to receive the Governor’s Awards in the Arts on Feb. 10 via Zoom.
While Banasiak said his success and achievement of the Governor’s Award in the Arts wouldn’t have been possible without his colleagues, those colleagues, like Michael Hook said this award couldn’t have been given to a more highly deserving professor.
“(Banasiak) is a strong advocate for student engagement by creating an inviting and relaxed atmosphere where students explore and share their ideas,” Hook said. “His strength is getting his students to see within themselves their creative potential and the possibility of a life in the arts.”
According to Arts South Dakota, Banasiak is earning this award because he is a prime example of an “individual who has made significant contributions to arts education as a teacher, mentor, or catalyst.”
“I feel lucky,” Banasiak said. “I don’t need any award. My award is feeling good about my life and being wrapped up in so many good experiences with so many good people. I’ve already had my award, for as long as I’ve been here. It’s just being a part of the art department, that’s my award.”